How to make the most of your gap year

Taking some time to plan and reflect can help you to make the most of your gap year.
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Whether just out of school, in college or working, we all need a break sometimes. If you want to take some time out to travel, learn new skills or discover new interests, a gap year is a great opportunity.

Deciding to take a gap year

Before you decide to take a gap year, it is important to think about why you want to do so, and whether you can afford it. 

Things to consider before taking a gap year

By doing some self-reflection, you can figure out whether taking a gap year is the right choice for you. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Am I taking a gap year because my friends are doing so?
  • Am I taking it because I am confused about college courses?
  • Do I feel too young to start work or college? 
  • Do I feel that I am not ready for work or college?
  • Do I want to gain new experiences through travelling, volunteering and other activities?
  • Can I afford to take time off school, college or work?
  • What will I do during my year off?
  • After returning from my break, what do I plan to do?

Asking yourself these questions will help you to make the decision that is best for you.

Preparing for a gap year

Once you have decided to take a gap year, there are certain steps you can take to make sure that you are well prepared. 

Making a plan

There are lots of different ways you can decide to spend your gap year. If you do decide to take a year off, it is a good idea to make a plan so that you make the most of the time you have. What you do with your gap year is up to you – for some people it might mean travelling abroad, for others it might mean exploring your options at home.

Deciding on a plan for your gap year can be challenging, particularly if there are many options available to you. Try to begin with the end in mind. At the end of your gap year, what do you want to be able to say about your time? By figuring out what you hope to have achieved by the end of your time off, it will be easier to make a plan that will move you towards your goals.

Exploring your career options

If you are taking a gap year because you are unsure about what to do in college or work, you can explore different career options by working, doing a traineeship, or doing an internship. Doing so will give you a realistic idea of what a certain career involves before you commit to a course in it. It will also enhance your CV. 

Spending time volunteering

You can also learn more about career options and gain skills and confidence by volunteering. This is something you can choose to do in Ireland or abroad. There are volunteer opportunities across every area so you are sure to find something that you find interesting. Find volunteering opportunities through agencies or you can search yourself for opportunities in your local area. Read more about the benefits of volunteering and how to get involved. 

Travelling abroad

Many people decide to spend their gap year travelling. Seeing new places and learning about different cultures can be a really rewarding and life-changing experience.

Managing money during a gap year

If you are planning on travelling during your gap year, it’s important to make sure that you have enough money to get you through the year. Research the living and travelling costs of the countries you plan to visit before you go. This way you will have an idea of how much you want to save beforehand if you intend to spend all your time exploring.

If you don’t think you will be able to afford to travel for a year, consider going for a shorter period. You could spend some time before you go working and saving for your travels, or you could look into ways to make money while abroad. One option is getting a Teaching English as a Foreign Language qualification. This will allow you to apply for online and in-person teaching opportunities in other countries. If you plan to work while abroad, make sure to look into the employment laws in the country you’re going to, and that you are allowed to work on your visa. 

Even if you are not planning to travel during your gap year, it is important to take a look at your finances to make sure that you have enough to get by. Food, rent and other daily expenses will still need to be paid for. If you are taking time out of work or college and you still have these living costs, you may consider taking on part-time work to cover your expenses.

What to do after your gap year

Taking a gap year does not mean that you won’t complete your studies or get the job you want later on. It simply means you are taking another route to get there. If you are currently in college or if you have been offered a place on a college course, speak with the college advisors about deferring your place. Some colleges will only allow you to defer in certain circumstances, but it’s important to have a conversation about your options. Deferring would mean the college will hold your place on the course for a year, and you can start or resume your studies when you return.

If you are currently working in a job that you enjoy, it is worth speaking with your boss before you quit. They might be willing to offer you unpaid leave so that you can gain the new experiences you are looking for, or make arrangements for you to work remotely. It’s worth keeping in mind that working for an Irish company abroad can create complications for your income tax, so both you and your employer will need to be informed about the options available.

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